As you can well imagine, I was not at all thrilled to discover that all the toilets at my school were squat toilets. And, not only were they all squat toilets, they were all child-sized squat toilets. I had no idea they made child-sized squat toilets. In all of my previous almost 7 years in Asia, never before had I seen a child-sized squat toilet.
Obviously I didn’t go around and check out every bathroom in my new school! I limited my search to the upper grades. The school is more or less divided by grade. The floor where my desk is located is all of the grade 4 classes and about half of the grade 5 classes. I figured there was no point in checking the grade 1, 2 or 3 bathrooms so I checked all of the bathrooms on my floor, and then I went upstairs. There are some big grade 6 boys at my school, surely they had adult-sized bathrooms for them? Apparently not, and I raised a few eyebrows going in and out of all the bathrooms on a floor where I didn’t teach.
For a while I was convinced that it was some sort of strange hazing. “Tell the foreign teachers there are no real bathrooms!” but then I saw some of my co-workers in the bathroom and with dawning dread, realized it was no joke.
I’m not sure why my school doesn’t have separate bathrooms for teachers and students. Perhaps it’s just too big. There are 110 staff and at least 8 separate staff rooms. But why not put in one adult toilet in every bathroom? Or on every floor? Or better yet, one Western toilet?
As I see it, the problems are many and varied. For starters, children haven’t got the best aim so the floors in the stalls tend to be a little damp and the air redolent with a rather unsavory aroma. The bathrooms do get cleaned every day but the students clean them so it’s more that the dirt gets pushed around rather than anything actually being cleaned. And they use no cleaning product of any sort. But I can deal with that. It will build my immune system.
Another problem is that there isn’t any toilet paper. You need to guesstimate the amount you will need and bring it in with you. You can’t take the roll in with you because there is nowhere to put it. I keep a roll of TP in my desk but have sadly forgotten a few times.
The lack of TP is annoying but it does intrigue me. How does it work for the students? Do they each have a roll in their desks? Or is there some central classroom roll? I’ve never seen TP in any of the classrooms I’ve been in but perhaps I haven’t been looking in the right places.
My biggest problem with the child-sized squatters, apart from the fact that I need to be more precise with my aim (I have developed a bit of a paranoia that I’m going to pee on myself) is the size of the stalls themselves. Not only is the bowl itself child-sized but so is the stall. I need to bend nearly in half to get into the stall and once I’m in, my head sticks up above the walls leading to mass hilarity and prompting lots of “Oh Carrie-teacher!” and “Hello! You doing what?”
Once I’m in the narrow stall, squishing myself into a proper urinating position is an operation worthy of NATO. As you can see from the picture below, there is a garbage can in the stall for the TP we’re not supposed to flush. It occupies prime real estate. It’s also quite disgusting and not something I want to touch with any part of my anatomy.
It’s a delicate balancing act. I need to almost stand on one foot to avoid the garbage can, and lean a bit forward so I fit but not too far forward or I overshoot. I gather from the way various body parts press against the stall walls that when I’m squatting, I extend a bit more in all directions than the average Korean child. Sometimes I feel like I need a shoehorn to get myself in and out of the bathroom stall. My hip joints pop nearly every time I use the bathroom.
My first time in the bathroom I made the mistake of grabbing the door knob for balance. It opened and I nearly toppled out into the waiting children with my pants around my ankles.
Hopefully all this balancing will be good for some muscles somewhere. I sure won’t need to take a yoga class in Korea. I’ll just go to the bathroom and contort myself a few times a day!